Friday 18 April 2008

Who can you trust?

Many years ago I worked for a bank in the Republic of Ireland called Allied Irish Bank. AIB also operated in Northern Ireland which of course remains politically part of the United Kingdom. I’m not going to get into the long, tortured history of Ireland but you may understand that in the North the word “Irish” has all sorts of political connotations. Certain parts of the community object to anything being called Irish when they firmly identify themselves as British. So when AIB wanted to start up an operation in the North they realised that their name had to change. The majority of the community would refuse to give their money to an organisation that called itself “Allied Irish”.

So they came up with a new name. First Trust Bank.

They probably paid some media company a fortune to come up with that name but it did work rather well. Everyone wants to be First but the critical word was Trust. It hinted that this was an organisation that was reliable, dependable and that gave you confidence, all things you want from a bank.

So what has this got to do with us? I started thinking about trust when we received a complaint from a shopper who felt distrusted by a store. She went to return some clothes she had bought for her husband (what a sweetheart!) which turned out to be too big. Obviously not quite as hunky as she imagined.

The distrust she experienced started with the security guard at the door. He stopped her rather aggressively and demanded that she explain why she was bringing their merchandise into the store rather than out of it. When she explained he made her remove every single item, each one to be individually inspected and recorded. Finally she was allowed into the store and ended up with the customer services staff. Exactly the same procedure had to be followed again and finally the customer service operative agreed that the items could be exchanged for the correct size. Well, not quite. Only the store manager could authorise the exchange. When she finally arrived the same procedure had to be followed yet again.

Our reader’s point was not that there were security controls in the store, she understood that. I’m sure we all do. We all know that stores lose a lot to theft and if they don’t put security measures in place we consumers end up paying for it. Her point was that the whole thing made her feel like a criminal. She felt distrusted.

Surely there is a way that stores can execute proper security without making us feel like crooks? We trust them to deliver decent products and services so can’t they at least give the impression of trusting their law-abiding customers?

It can happen. I was in a store recently with my laptop in it’s bag over my shoulder. The security guard was very apologetic but instead of distrusting me he quickly checked the bag and put a little sticker on the laptop to show it was mine, not theirs. He did it politely, with a smile and it was all pain-free. They didn’t make me feel like a criminal.

Those of you who’ve eaten at Primi Piatti or the Caravela in Gaborone (yes, here I go again) will have noticed quite the opposite. I’m not talking about the food, the welcome or the prices, I’m talking about being trusted with the toilet paper. The trust bottom line?

Both of these places have decided not to lock the toilet paper away in miniature prison cells bolted to the wall of the toilet. They have decided not to tell their valued customer that they believe they’re going to steal the toilet paper. Of course they take a risk but they prefer to show they have some trust in their customers. They don’t assume that they are thieves.

It works both ways though. As well as stores showing us that they trust us, we should also decide who WE trust. Who can we rely on to supply us with decent products?

I don’t trust a computer store that refuses to repair a computer because they decided retrospectively that one component of a reader’s PC (coincidentally the one that went wrong) isn’t covered by the warranty. Their guarantee seems only to cover those bits of the computer that don’t go wrong. (You can see more about this story on our web site if you’re interested.)

I also don’t trust people and organisations who sell us false hope, waffle and nonsense. For once I’m not going to criticise faith healers, herbal charlatans and crystal-waving New Age loons. This week it’s business consultants.

You may have seen an advertisement for a seminar called Leadership Foundations. At this session you will learn “to implement a system for executing on critical priorities”, “to leverage the talents of peers and co-workers to accomplish unprecedented results” and how to throw away P5,000 in a single day. Impressive eh?

Who is this aimed at? As well as “high potential individual contributors” and “project leaders” they claim it is for “junior to senior managers”. In fact anyone with a heartbeat and P5,000 they don’t want any more.

Save yourself some money and actually do something useful with it. Buy a computer from a reputable store. Train your security guards how to treat customers properly. Better still take your entire team out for an enormous, team-building, “Thanks for being great” party. At least that way you’ll have something to show for it, even if it is just a hangover.

This week’s stars!

  • Irene and Leungo at Stuttafords at Game City for going out of their way to make a customer feel welcome.

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